LAKE GEORGE, Colo. (AP) -- Aided by cooler weather and milder wind, weary fire crews managed to make progress on an out-of-control wildfire burning over 99,000 acres in Colorado.
The improved outlook on Thursday came just days after flames up to 80 feet high raced through tinder-dry trees, forcing crews to pull away as the northeast flank of the blaze raced toward several small mountain towns 35 miles southwest of Denver.
With that threat reduced, Douglas County lifted voluntary evacuations Thursday from several small communities between the fire and Denver suburbs.
"We made some good ground today," incident commander Kim Martin said Thursday night.
Crews also dug fire lines on the southern end of the fire to keep flames from spreading farther and planes were able to drop retardant all day because of decreased smoke.
The fire was only about 5 percent contained and there was no rain in the forecast. More than 5,400 people remained out of their homes because of mandatory evacuations.
"We're putting firefighters all around this fire to start trying to extinguish those hot spots and get this thing under control, but you still have to deal with those shifting winds," Colorado State Forester Jim Hubbard said.
Colorado is in the middle of one of its worst droughts in years, resulting in bone-dry trees and brush -- the perfect fuel for wind-driven flames.
The fire, 20 miles long and 14 miles wide, winds from the foothills dotted with small mountain towns to near Denver. It has charred about 140 square miles, leaving blackened forest floors and skeletal trees.
Twenty-two homes have been destroyed, including the home of John Ocken, 56, who had lived three miles north of Lake George since 1968 and used to go hunting for crystals in abandoned mines in the area.
"It's like you lose somebody in the family," Ocken said. "We've had a lot of great times up there, but that's the chance you take."
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